First World War, Middle Eastern Theatre. This is an original photographic album of 44 snapshot photographs of the life of an enlisted Australian in Egypt at the beginning of the First World War. Laid in is a 1 February 1916 holograph letter addressed to the owner of the album from a fellow service member aboard a troop ship leaving the Dardanelles. The album is in very good condition. The green buckram binding is square and firm with light wear to extremities. Within, the photos are held in place in 2.25 x 3.125 inch (5.5 x 8 cm) windows with two images on each page. The photos are all in very good condition with some light silvering present on some and four empty windows. A penciled ownership marking on the inside of the front cover identifies the owner as “Mr Thomson | Belvidere Paddocks | Shrewsbury” and a stamp on the rear cover features a possible service number “4633” next to a stamp of the Australian flag with the word “Ensign”.
Though we are unable to find any service records for Thomson (or “Thompson” as the laid in letter addresses him) we surmise that he may have been assigned to the Australian Light Horse mounted troops. The photographs depict day to day enlisted life in Egypt. Horses and equipment are pictured next to ships and trains. Troops gather with pyramids in the background and men pass the time wrestling on horseback. Other images include the barrages used to raise the water level along the Nile River, the Hotel de Sinai, canals, gardens, a mud village on the banks of the Nile, Officer Thomson, birds-eye view of Heliopolis, Column camp at Ismailia, etc. Photos are captioned with descriptors like “Natives watching our boats leave for Nile Barrage” and “My horse when playing polo at Heliopolis”.
A laid in holograph letter addressed “Dear Thompson” from an “M. Bird” leads us to conjecture that Mr. Thomson may have been injured – it is unclear whether psychologically, physically, or both - in the Gallipoli Campaign, the ill-fated attempt to wrest the strategically significant Dardanelles straits from Ottoman control. The letter is penned on a single sheet of embossed, laid paper stationery folded to form four panels and franked on the top left of the front panel with a five cent stamp lettered “ALEXANDRIE POSTE FRANCAISE”. The letter is addressed from “HQ. of D1 EC | Dard… HMT Aragon” dated “1.2.16”. Hence the letter was written aboard the HMT Aragon, on 1 February 1916, weeks after the conclusion of the disastrous campaign. The Aragon was a transatlantic Royal Mail ship used as a troop ship during the First World War, including during the Gallipoli campaign, until she was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean by a German submarine in 1917. The letter reads: “Dear Thompson – Here’s the Surada Group. I’m sorry to have been so long about it, but things are only just beginning to slacken off a bit, now that we have got nearly the whole of the troops away. I expect we shall clear off of [indecipherable] in a couple of weeks - & then England for me – I hope! I came straight here & have been DAQMG here ever since 10.10. Very interesting it has been too. I hope your health has been improving & that you are quite your old self again. I wonder are you married yet? If so good luck to you both! Yours sincerely M. Bird.”
Accompanying the letter is a photograph of the referenced “Surada Group” depicting a group of servicemen on board His Majesty’s Australian Transport Surada, a ship used for transporting Australian troops to the Middle Eastern Front until it was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean by a German submarine in 1918. This album presents a personal and specific example of the experience of the thousands of Australian servicemen who served in the Middle Eastern Theatre, many of whom gave their lives in the Gallipoli Campaign. Item #004890